March 2012 – Cardinal O’Brien, president of the Scottish bishops’ conference, openly declares himself against the redefinition of marriage to include homosexual couples. Immediately he is attacked by the mainstream media, in particular by the singer Will Young who in a BBC interview defines the cardinal an “awful man” and his words “disgusting, repugnant, and archaic.” The cardinal affirms a fundamental truth and is publicly insulted!
I have been a priest for only ten months, but I have several experiences in which they insulted me… walking around the streets of Rome in a collar is not always easy! One day, I was on a sidewalk downtown when passing by a group of young people, I heard them snicker, “Priest, pedophile.” Often I meet people who seeing me, shake their head and murmur something under their breath. Other times they curse. Not only an important cardinal who speaks publically, but even a young, unknown priest like me is insulted!
Have you ever been made fun of because you go to Mass or pray? “Are you still that old-fashioned? Do you still believe that stuff? Wake up. They’re deluding you!” Everyone part of this last beatitude of Matthew! Why? Because the priest, but also every Christian who witnesses his faith, is uncomfortable. St. Augustine said, “The truth generates hate.” Yes, the coherent Christian is a stumbling block for consciences, a sign of contradiction, counter-cultural. Cardinal Suhard said about people with their priests, “You think you’re in peace, you think you’ve done enough: he brings chaos to your peace. You want to escape him: you will undoubtedly meet him on the way. You think you’re autonomous, and you want to be free: he suggests, obliges. That’s why the priest will always be the enemy in some sense… People will never forgive him for speaking the truth.” Not only the priest, but every baptized Christian is called to be a problem for the world’s indifference, a faithful witness in a society where everything is becoming relative.
This ninth and last beatitude of Matthew’s Gospel is unique, different from the others. It is directed to everyone who is listening! The others are impersonal: blessed the poor, the meek, the merciful… Here instead the opening reads, “Blessed are you…” This “you” is us, me, you! Jesus calls us personally! It is also the longest and richest beatitude. The “blessed are you” is reinforced by a “rejoice and exult!” Why is being insulted and persecuted a blessing that’s supposed to bring joy and exultation? Joy is tied to the “for my cause.” Only when we are insulted and persecuted for Jesus, for being Christians, for manifesting our faith, can we experience this blessing. Why? Because we imitate Jesus’ own life. As St. Paul invites us to have within us “the same feelings as Christ” (Phil 2:5). We are in the midst of Easter. These verses of Matthew 5 can be seen as a synthesis of the Easter mystery. Passion, death, resurrection are forever bound together. Suffering is never an end in itself, never the last word, because death has been conquered by Jesus resurrection. “Thus they persecuted the prophets that were before you.” We are inserted in the story that has already begun, and we are called to play our part: They persecuted the prophets of old, they persecuted Jesus, and his Apostles and other disciples, the first Christians, and so many other saints… This chain has now reached us.
Yes, perhaps we are not called to suffer a horrible death, even if many of our brothers and sisters today continue to be killed for bearing the name of Christ, but to a martyrdom of faith and witness. Perhaps silent, hidden, but necessary. Where are the Christians in our society? In politics? In sports? In the business world? Yes, some people have the courage to raise their voice like Cardinal O’Brien, but where is the support from us? Remember, “Blessed are you.” Jesus is inviting, and you are called to answer with courage, “so that your recompense will be great in heaven.” What good comes from worldly fame anyway? It’s not those who sit around and complain who will bring peace, love, and beauty to our time. There is a need for people willing to suffer, to fight, to challenge our times, whatever it takes. I will end with the words of a famous Italian Christian song:
We need something, we need someone
We need words that no one has ever spoken…
I will commit to speak up when necessary to defend my Catholic faith and values even if that means to step out of my comfort zone.